A friend recently visited the Omaha Botanical Gardens where he learned an interesting lesson about why tomato plants, when grown inside, become spindly. When tomatoes are grown outside, the wind requires the plants to build more structure and strength in their stems, hence making them less spindly and more able to support its fruit.

The Benefits of Wind in Nature

If we looked at the function of wind in nature, we would find some interesting benefits that are less understood when we think of wind. For example, we would find that trees and plants grow stronger as a result of wind. The tree utilizes the movement of the wind to develop new wood. As wind blows a micro fracturing occurs within the wood as the tree sways. These small fractures or spaces fill with lignin making the tree wider over time. Another use of wind is the nutrients it provides for the forest. There are hundreds of species of insect that picked up in wind and invariably die and float along in the wind until they are dropped as the wind decreases when it moves through a forest. As wind decreases, soil and dead insects are deposited in the forest and around its edges. This soil is rich in minerals and food for forests helping the forest grow wider and stronger. Wind also sweeps pollen and bacterial colonies from the tops of trees into the atmosphere and upper atmosphere, where they provide nucleation sites for precipitation to form. These wind-swept nucleation sites generate nearly 90% of all rain.

What the wind can teach us about life and living systems is that there is an interdependent relationship between species, wind, water, and life. It is this relationship that creates conditions conducive to life within an ecosystem. Wind is a wonder that we take for granted and experience in a superficial way by its presence and absence. But it can be such a powerful force in strengthening the living system around us.

Organizational Wind

What is an organization’s version of wind? This question got me thinking about the important role of resistance in growing stronger organizations. If one of wind’s benefits is to buffer the plants and trees and through that action helps them build stronger structures for their stalks and trunks, what is a human system’s form of buffering? What is the organizational action that creates “micro fracturing”, that is filled in with a resource that makes us stronger? I think that resistance is one form of wind in an organization. When we surround ourselves with people who always agree with us, we don’t have to test our ideas against people who may disagree. This can cause us to be blindsided by an unseen dynamic or implication from a decision that hasn’t been vetted by disagreement and multiple perspectives.

Resistance is a way to make decisions more effective which in turn helps organizations become stronger and more resilient. Resistance also makes our bones stronger. The less resistance, the weaker our bones become. Leadership that is inspired by nature nurtures and invites resistance in a productive way into our organizations. This kind of leadership is a powerful way we can help our organizations thrive in the future.

Andrew Mateskon works at the Legacy Polycultures and wrote the blog What Value Does Wind Have to Nature? https://www.quora.com/What-value-does-wind-have-to-nature

Dr. Kathleen E. Allen is the author of Leading from the Roots: Nature Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World (2019) and President of Allen and Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in leadership, innovation, and organizational change. She writes a blog on leadership and organizations that describes a new paradigm of leadership that is based in lessons from nature and living systems at www.kathleenallen.net

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